Saturday, October 18, 2008

Les Rendez-vous d’Anna (The Meetings of Anna)

Chantal Akerman films are always complex and some are not easy to watch, as her innovative style has been recorded in many cinema books as not only precursory but also very distinctive. This 1978 film is no exception and in my opinion, has her style written allover the movie.

Not very often I find movies where comments from critics, authors and viewers are somehow different from each other and to what I saw in the movie. I believe that the differences in opinions can only come from a movie that’s so personal that allows viewers to interpret the story in many ways that at the end reflect their own personal interests.

The simplest way to describe what happens in the film is by telling that follows Anna as she promotes her film. Starts when she arrives to an unknown Germany train station, presents her film, stays the night and next day she takes a train back home to Paris, with one overnight stop in Brussels. In her travel she collects stories from others and we have a very brief glimpse of her impersonal personal life and surroundings.

So, to set a background let’s review what Chantal says about this movie first.

According to Akerman it is at once about Europe and about Anna returning to her mother as the center of her life and the structural center of the film. Akerman has talked of Anna's travels in terms of the "wandering Jew" and of her own sense of uprootedness. "When I look at my parents, I see that they are very well integrated here... They don't have this feeling of exile. In a way, they have made a break with their past... I think that we represent the generation in which the repressed comes back... Because they didn't tell us about that past, because they didn't pass it down to us, what they did pass down was precisely this sense of uprootedness." BFI.

In my opinion and according to what I saw in this film, the movie absolutely is about uprootedness and its consequences, about not belonging anywhere anymore, about placing your profession before your life, about working long hours and finish your day alone in an impersonal hotel room, about unremarkable affairs, about wishing for family and children but escaping opportunities, and about seeing humans as source of information for your work which facilitates to really not get involved with anyone. Then, I do see in this film inspiration coming from Chantal Akerman real life, specially from what perhaps she felt about the business side of an artistic occupation.

What others say.

Chantal Akerman presents a deeply personal, challenging, and affecting portrait of alienation and artistic disconnection in Les Rendezvous d'Anna. Using repeated images of impermanence and isolation, Akerman depicts the role of the artist in society as an objective and dispassionate chronicler of life's process. The constant movement of trains, indistinguishable hotel rooms, anonymous brief encounters, and prolonged absences from home and family reflect the profound loneliness and personal sacrifice that has consumed Anna's existence in pursuit of creativity and artistic independence. Strangers, estranged friends, and even lovers attempt to briefly connect with Anna, only to find her withdrawn and unaffected by their attempts at emotional (if not physical) intimacy. In the end, Les Rendezvous d'Anna becomes a poignant and emotionally conflicted examination of the artist as a perpetual exile and distant spectator of humanity. Acquarello.

What comes through is a vision of Europe that feels remarkably prescient for a film from the late 1970s, a stretching plane of points and horizons from which nationalities, languages, and other cornerstones of unique culture have eroded, or else merged with those of their neighbors. (…) That neutrality can feel so infertile is one of the layers that make Les Rendez-vous d'Anna interesting from a political standpoint, though the film works harder to prompt contemplation from the vantages of desire, human relationships, and contemporary hiccups in old, generational models of how the present becomes the future. Nickflick.

The film’s geography is rigorously composed of trains, train stations, cinemas, car interiors, and hotel rooms. It is a geography of passage. (…) The intimate encounter with her mother, in which she discloses her lesbian life, can take place only now that they are away from the family house. Atlas of Emotion by Giulana Bruno. Page 100.

Perhaps what all the selected excerpts talk similarly is that this is a film about not belonging.

This absolutely is a complex film not only for the story it tells, for how Akerman chose to tell it and mostly for the haunting images that unbelievably required only 96 takes for a 122 minutes film, which not only speaks about the many long takes, but also about the pace this movie has that varies from slow to very fast images.

Then this hyper realistic film as a film is outstanding with some takes having very traditional photography framing, mesmerizing train and train stations takes, amazing lighting and a somber palette of grays and blues denoting the coldness and the unsentimentalism (yet awfully touching) of the situations presented. Performances by actors are good, but the movie is carried by Aurore Clément that plays Anna and she’s amazing as with a very few exceptions all her performance is done by an expressionless face. Also here we find a very young Jean-Pierre Cassel playing Daniel, Lea Massari playing Anna’s mother and Magali Noël playind Ida.

Chantal Akerman’s films are not for all audiences, as most are real avant-garde cinema, while others are truly experimental. This so-called “first large-scale production aimed at a much broader audience” is less experimental and less avant-garde that some of her previous and later films, but I believe that still is not easy to watch for general audiences. You have to like unconventional cinema with a unique storytelling style that will mesmerize some and could annoy others.

Just want to add that the scene between Anna and her mother, where Anna tells her about “her lesbian relationship” is one scene that not only made my eyes to open as wide as I can, but also is one that I wish many that read this blog could watch as is truly amazing to see and truly unsentimental to hear, but what you’ll hear is so true for many.

I strongly recommend this movie only to those familiar with Chantal Akerman cinema, to those that enjoy avant-garde or experimental cinema and to those that want to learn about this type of cinema, well I believe that this is not exactly the best film to watch for the first time in this genre.

Big Enjoy!!!

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